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Why AI is a lot like teenage sex – and how you can get better at it

AI, Machine Learning

In 2013 Dan Ariely, professor of behavioural economics at Duke University, got the analytics world all aquiver when he stated: “Big data is like teenage sex: everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it.” His risqué comments appeared in the midst of a data revolution, the experience of which was less than satisfactory for many companies.

Six years on and we’re doing it better. However, AI is in danger of being in the same position as Big Data was six years ago. Some data strategists would have you believe that AI and its bedfellow machine learning are better than sex. But as with anything in the data revolution, don’t expect to achieve total fulfilment overnight.

Cost vs kudos

A report from the McKinsey Global Institute predicts that early adopters of this technology could grow the value of their business by 120%. It adds that those who fail to jump on board the AI gravy train could lose a fifth of their cash flow. No surprise that companies are throwing money at the problem – but not necessarily always for the right reasons.

Kudos is not enough of a reward for a business to pump considerable sums of money into an AI project. A survey by the US analytics company Figure Eight showed that the majority of companies were spending at the very least $50,000, rising to over $5 million for those serious about making it a central part of their business.

AI has now been around for two decades. Advances in tech plus heavy investment from the likes of Google mean that the cost of leveraging AI tools will continue to fall, levelling the playing field and allowing smaller businesses to utilise AI. If you’ve made it your business to amass a wealth of clean, properly managed data you are already well positioned to launch an effective AI project.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves

With any data project, there are things you need to think about before you get started. If you’re looking to get started with AI specifically, first consider whether the problem you would like to address is best served by the technology. Don’t expect AI to act as a sort of panacea; you need to be deploying it in the right way and for the right reasons. If you’re unsure, talk to an expert first (yes, we can help with that) to assess what sort of data analysis would be best for your particular problem.

Maybe there is an area of your business you are certain would benefit from an AI solution – if only you could convince the CFO to invest. If they’re keeping a tight hold of the purse strings ask yourself: does this align with the greater corporate strategy? If no, you’d probably be better focusing your efforts somewhere that does.

Finally, when you have identified the right AI project and hired yourself a crack analytics specialist (hello), don’t assume that the thing will just run itself. AI is smart but it still needs help. That means putting together the right team – and not just a couple of people borrowed from the IT department. Successful AI needs buy-in from people who understand the business need and who are working with the numbers on a daily basis.

Get it right and you’ll transform your AI experience from a meaningless one night stand to a satisfying relationship that grows into something really special.

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